Characterizing the Effectiveness of Developmental Education: A Response to Recent Criticism

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1 Characterizing the Effectiveness of Developmental Education: A Response to Recent Criticism Thomas Bailey Shanna Smith Jaggars Judith Scott-Clayton February 2013 Over the past several years, the Community College Research Center (CCRC) has conducted several research studies on developmental education 1 and has produced reviews synthesizing the results of our own work together with that of colleagues from other research organizations. 2 In a recent issue of the Journal of Developmental Education, Alexandros Goudas and Hunter Boylan (2012) aimed several criticisms at this body of work, with the key claims being that: (1) we unfairly portray developmental education as ineffective because it does not lead to outcomes better than those of collegeready students; (2) we ignore several studies showing positive results; and (3) we overgeneralize from results that are only valid for students near the developmental cutoff scores. These three claims are woven into a broader critique that we have cherry-picked negative results, neglected methodological problems with the studies yielding such results, and ignored positive results in order to advance our own reform agenda and, in particular, to support the notion of co-requisite developmental education. 3 In this essay, we address each of the claims advanced by Goudas and Boylan (2012). We disagree with their portrayal of our research as biased and flawed, yet we also believe that their comments may reflect some widespread confusion in the field about research on 1 Some of the research was also conducted by the National Center for Postsecondary Research (NCPR), a partnership of CCRC, MDRC, the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, and faculty at Harvard University (http://www.postsecondaryresearch.org/). 2 See 3 A blurb announcing a presentation by Goudas on the article at the 2013 conference of the National Association of Developmental Education describes his session as follows: Organizations such as the Community College Research Center, the National Center for Postsecondary Research, and Complete College America have recently deemed developmental education ineffective. This presentation addresses most of the publications that make this misleading claim, the data they use, and the overgeneralizations, misinterpretations, and misapplications of this data (http://m.guidebook.com/guide/5669/event/917802/).

2 developmental education so our response has significance beyond our particular disagreements with these authors. But before addressing their claims, we wish to clarify a critical point. We value and appreciate the challenging and important work performed by developmental education faculty within the classroom. Faced with underprepared students, these instructors can make a substantial positive difference in the academic and personal lives of the people they teach. We do not dispute this reality. However, this reality co-exists with another one: The traditional system of developmental education has negative side effects (at the very least, developmental coursework takes time and resources and may discourage students) which, when considering the developmental population as a whole, tend to balance out its positive effects. Nevertheless, while our research does conclude that the current system of developmental education does not work very well for many students, we do not advocate nor do we believe that the results of our research support the elimination of developmental education, the placing of all students into college courses, or the wholesale conversion of developmental education into a co-requisite model. 4 But we do think that community colleges can more effectively help students who arrive with academic and non-academic weaknesses that impede success. We recognize that improvements will draw heavily on the skill and experience of today s developmental faculty, but they cannot do it alone. We contend that the system of developmental education needs reform. Moreover, we are optimistic about the many exciting and innovative reforms being implemented in states and colleges all over the country. These reforms include changes in assessment, placement, financial aid, connections to high schools, links to college-level programs, curricular content, student supports, and pedagogy. Having made this larger point, we will now address each of Goudas and Boylan s (2012) claims. In order to do so, we must delve into some technical and methodological details in order to explain the misunderstandings undergirding their claims and to provide a more accurate understanding of the research and its implications. We hope the reader will have patience with this exercise; for those short on time, we provide a brief summary and conclusion at the end of this essay. Claim 1: We unfairly portray developmental education as ineffective because it does not lead to outcomes better than those of college-ready students. The most simplistic way to estimate the effectiveness of developmental education would be to compare the outcomes of remediated and non-remediated students. In such a comparison, one would hardly be surprised to see developmental education students doing worse, because they are selected for remediation on the basis of low test scores. 4 The co-requisite model refers to the practice of enrolling developmental students in college-level courses while providing some additional academic support that might include a separate class during the same semester. 2

3 Thus even if remediation were effective in improving student outcomes, developmental students might still succeed at lower rates than students who arrive at college with stronger skills. It is in this context that Goudas and Boylan argue that it is unfair to expect remediated students to do better than college-ready students. They state that to take students who do not understand basic math and English concepts and to get them to pass their gatekeeper course at the same rates as students who never require remediation should be considered a success for developmental education (p.4). But we are not satisfied with a comparison of two groups of students who are not similar to begin with (comparing two groups who are not similar at the outset is the only kind of comparison in which a lack of any difference in outcomes can be recast as a positive impact). Instead, we focus our own research and our review of existing literature on methodologies that compare virtually identical students, some of whom are and some of whom are not assigned to developmental education. Because the two groups are identical prior to remedial assignment, if remediation has any beneficial effect, it would show up as a positive difference in outcomes. If both groups have the same ultimate outcomes, then the developmental group would have undergone the cost and time of developmental education without gaining any benefits. A common strategy that has emerged over the past few years (and not just for studying remediation) is known as the regression discontinuity (RD) approach. Despite the fancy name, the intuition behind this approach is quite straightforward. The idea is that if students are assigned to remediation based on a cutoff score, and we narrow our focus to those students who score just above and just below the cutoff, then which students are and are not assigned to remediation is effectively random. Students very near the cutoff are virtually identical (even if, across the larger range of test scores, highscoring and low-scoring students are quite different). This circumstance is illustrated in Figure 1. Figure 1. Among Students Advancing Directly to College-Level Math: Success Rates by Placement Exam Score 3

4 Figure 1, which is based on data from a large urban community college system, 5 shows data for all students who scored between 40 and 50 on the COMPASS algebra exam. (In the sample from which these data are drawn, the actual developmental cutoff score used was 30; thus, none of the students represented in the figure underwent remediation. Here we have drawn a vertical line at the score of 45, which represents a more typical college-level cutoff; that is, in many colleges, students scoring below 45 would be assigned to remediation; see Fields & Parsad, 2012.) The figure shows that students on either side of the score of 45 have similar probabilities of earning a C or better in the college-level course; indeed, the students near this line also share similar observable and unobservable characteristics at the time of assessment. It is for this reason that they can be considered virtually identical for purposes of analysis. In a college where 45 were the cutoff score, students just below the cutoff would be assigned to remediation. And if remediation had a positive effect, then one would expect students just to the left of the line to end up with better outcomes than the college-ready students just to the right of the line in other words, one would expect to see a discontinuity in outcomes right around the cutoff. 6 We should emphasize that this analysis does not compare students with a much lower score (for example, a 20) to college-ready students. Students with a score of 20 have a much lower probability of earning a C in the gatekeeper course, so we would never argue that they are similar to college-ready students. In general, however, regression discontinuity studies have not found that students to the left of the line, after undergoing remediation, fare better than students to the right. Instead, remediated students just to the left of the cutoff score have no better and sometimes worse outcomes than students just to the right. This is the conclusion of the regression discontinuity studies discussed by Goudas and Boylan (Calcagno & Long, 2008; Martorell & McFarlin, 2007/2011 [published article]). Moreover, three new regression discontinuity studies also find largely null and negative effects (Dadgar, 2012; Scott-Clayton & Rodriguez, 2012; Xu, forthcoming). This overall conclusion holds for the studies that measure the effects on completion of the first college-level course (Calcagno & Long, 2008, Scott-Clayton & Rodriguez, 2012). So while Goudas and Boylan are correct that we criticize remediation for not raising the outcomes of developmental students above those of college-ready students, this is the appropriate 5 This is the same dataset used in Scott-Clayton (2012). 6 The idea that students just above and below the cutoff are virtually identical is particularly plausible in the context of placement test scores, which even the test makers themselves admit are extremely noisy. For example, the COMPASS algebra module has a standard error of measurement of 8 points, meaning that a score of 30 is not distinguishable with 95 percent confidence even from the lowest possible score of 15 (ACT, Inc., 2006, p. 92). But a nice feature of this methodology is that we do not have to take this assumption as given. Researchers can test whether students just above and below the cutoff appear to be identical on other preexisting characteristics, including race, gender, age, high school achievement, other test scores, and so on. Our research and the studies we have cited show strong evidence that students just above and below remediation cutoffs are indeed indistinguishable based on these preexisting characteristics. 4

5 conclusion for the students who were included in the comparisons, all of whom scored within the same narrow range on a placement test. 7 Claim 2: We neglect the results of studies that find positive outcomes of developmental education. Goudas and Boylan assert that we focus exclusively on the most negative results of the research articles and reports that we cite. They argue that we also ignore some studies with positive results. For example, they point out that a paper by Boatman and Long (2010) showed some positive results for developmental education, while we tend to cite the study as showing that remediation is not effective. Boatman and Long examined eight outcomes 8 in two samples community college and four-year college students. We will focus on the the results for community colleges. 9 In their study, they analyzed the effects of three different types of developmental education (math, reading, and writing). For reading and writing, they examined two different levels (college-ready versus assigned to higher-level developmental, and assigned to higher-level developmental versus assigned to lowerlevel developmental), and for math they examined the effects for two levels (collegelevel and one and two levels below college-level). That is, the paper analyzed 49 effects, of which 10 were negative, 4 were positive, and the remaining 35 were null. One of the outcomes examined was the student s grade in the first college-level course. The highest level remedial courses in all three subject areas showed no positive effect on these grades. Enrollment in the lower-level writing course did have a positive effect on grades in the first college-level course, but there were no positive results for grades for the other lower-level remedial courses. We do not think it is a stretch to characterize this pattern as, overall, indicating a null result. Similarly, Goudas and Boylan state that a study by Bettinger and Long (2005b [working paper]/2009 [published article]) shows that remediation has positive effects overall (Goudas & Boylan, 2012, p. 4). Ninety percent of the students in the sample used in that study were four-year college students. In an article not cited by Goudas and Boylan, Bettinger and Long (2005a) published findings of an analysis using the same methodology limited to full-time community college students who took the ACT and who declared the intention of earning a bachelor s degree. They reported that community college students placed in math remediation were more likely to transfer and to accumulate more credit hours but were not less likely to stop out nor more likely to earn a degree. There was no statistically significant difference between the four measured 7 The remedial students being compared in these studies are thus not students who do not understand basic math and English concepts (Goudas & Boylan, 2012, p. 4). 8 The outcomes examined were: grade in first relevant college-level course, one-year any-credit accrual, second-term persistence, three-year persistence, three-year any-credit accrual, three-year college-credit accrual, six-year any-degree completion, and six-year bachelor s degree completion. In the outcomes that we report on here we eliminate completion of a bachelor s degree since it was captured in the completionof-any-degree variable. 9 The results for four-year colleges are substantially the same. 5

6 outcomes for students enrolled in English remediation and comparable non-remedial students. The positive results are encouraging, but two positive and six null results in their study do not fundamentally change the overall picture that emerges from the collection of studies. 10 Goudas and Boylan also point to one of CCRC s own studies (Bailey, Jeong, & Cho, 2009 [working paper]/2010a [published article]) as evidence of a positive effect of remediation. Goudas and Boylan argue that a superior method to regression discontinuity of testing the effect of developmental education would be to compare students who tested into remediation but went directly to gatekeeper courses ( skippers ) with students who were referred to remediation and who took the remedial courses ( compliers ). They assert that the data in this CCRC study show that the math developmental skippers passed the gatekeepers courses at much lower rates than the compliers (12 percent compared to 50 percent) but that we never mention these results in subsequent studies. Their conclusion is a misinterpretation of the study s data (the rates were 70 percent and 79 percent, respectively), 11 but such a comparison cannot be used to assess the effectiveness of remediation since it makes no attempt to make the two groups comparable by controlling for observable characteristics such as assessment scores or unobservable attributes such as motivation. That is why we appropriately do not include these results in our summaries of research. Goudas and Boylan also describe two studies which have appeared in peer-reviewed research journals and have positive outcomes for developmental education, but which they say are not typically cited in summaries of research on the effectiveness of remediation: Attewell, Lavin, Domina, and Levey (2006) and Bahr (2010). Attewell and his colleagues (2006) used national survey data to compare graduation rates of students (at both the community college and four-year level) who took developmental courses with those who did not, controlling for high school preparation 10 Because the sample included only students who had an ACT score and had declared that they wanted to earn a bachelor s degree, this study is not fully comparable to the regression discontinuity studies that did not make these restrictions. Bettinger and Long (2005a) also reported that remedial students who took the ACT were much more likely to complete their developmental sequences, so this was probably a sample of stronger remedial students. Because of these restrictions, we put less weight on this study in our overall consideration of results. 11 Bailey, Jeong, and Cho (2009) stated that the skippers who enrolled directly in gatekeeper courses passed them at a slightly lower rate than those who enrolled after completing their sequence (p. 12). But Goudas and Boylan refer to a related brief on the same study (Bailey, Jeong, & Cho, 2010b) and claim that if Tables 2 and 3 are compared in this study, remedial students who did not take remedial math passed their gatekeeper courses at only 12%, whereas remedial math students who took remediation passed their gatekeeper courses at an average rate of 50% (Goudas & Boylan, 2012, p. 10), implying that remedial skippers performed much more poorly within the college-level courses they took. This is a misinterpretation, which is likely due to the admittedly confusing use of the term pass rate in the brief. The term sometimes refers to unconditional pass rates (i.e., did the student ever take and pass the course?) and sometimes refers to conditional pass rates (i.e., among students who took the course, did they pass it?). The 12 percent pass rate is the share of all skippers who completed the gatekeeper course, but since only 17 percent enrolled, the pass rate for those who enrolled was 70 percent. The 50 percent is the share of all remedial completers who completed a gatekeeper course but since only 63 percent enrolled in a gatekeeper course, 79 percent of those passed. 6

7 and prior academic skills. The method they used to create comparability between the treatment and comparison group, known as propensity score matching, discards collegeready students who have no good match in the remedial group and likewise discards remedial students who have no good match in the college-ready group. In this study, they discarded approximately 70 percent of the potential sample due to lack of match on observable characteristics (i.e., demographics, high school preparation, and prior academic skills). In essence, then, like the studies discussed thus far, the Attewell et al. analysis focuses on students at the margin of college readiness, and it compares two groups of students who already have similar probabilities of positive outcomes. Most of the Attewell et al. (2006) study focused on the effect of enrolling in developmental education; that is, among two students with a similar level of readiness, does the one who enrolls in developmental education have better outcomes than the one who does not? The results of these analyses are rather discouraging: 12 among 16 tests, only 3 had positive effects, 6 had negative effects, and the remaining 7 were null. This pattern closely matches the patterns found in the regression discontinuity studies. However, Goudas and Boylan may have been more interested in the second set of Attewell et al. s (2006) analyses, which focused on the effect on graduation of passing all remedial courses taken. Among four-year college entrants, the effects were all null, but among two-year college entrants, the effects were positive for both reading and writing remediation (although they remained null for math remediation). Goudas and Boylan also point to a study by Bahr (2010) that compared developmental students who eventually completed remediation to students who started in college-level courses. To create more comparability between the two groups, Bahr controlled for a variety of demographic and enrollment characteristics. He found that in general the two groups had similar outcomes in terms of graduation and transfer and thus argued that, for those who completed their sequences, remediation effectively brought developmental students up to college level. There are two problems with studies that compare developmental education completers to college-ready students. First, these studies ignore the problem of noncompletion. Fewer than half of community college developmental education students complete their assigned remedial sequences and many fewer do so among those students assigned to multiple levels. Only a third of math remedial students complete their sequences (Bailey, Jeong, & Cho, 2009/2010a, 2010b). Should not the ability to get students to completion be part of any judgment about the success of a program? But there is a second problem as well. Even if one ignores the completion problem and focuses on the effect of remediation on those who complete, a comparison between the outcomes of developmental passers and academically similar students who did not 12 See Tables 2-5, column Propensity matched. For outcomes 1, 2, and 5 in Tables 2 and 3, minus signs represent a positive direction for the effect (i.e., the negative outcome was less likely, or in the case of timeto-graduation, students graduated more quickly) and plus signs represent a negative direction (i.e., the negative outcome was more likely, or in the case of time-to-graduation, students took longer to graduate). 7

8 enroll in remediation still cannot determine the effect of remediation on the completers. It cannot do so because the two groups that are being compared are not equivalent at the outset. Who are the one third to one half of developmental students who completed their sequences? We know that they are a group of students who have enough determination and motivation to get through a sequence of courses that foil the majority of students who try them. The college-ready students who are included in the comparison scored above a cutoff on an assessment. The remedial completers are included because they scored below the cutoff and enrolled in and passed one or more courses. The remedial sequence is likely to screen out less determined students, students who face more non-academic problems, and perhaps those who lack support networks outside of college. The assessment test taken by the college-ready students is less likely to screen students in this way. Moreover, we know that many students who are assigned to remediation could earn a C or better in a college-level course without going through remediation (Scott-Clayton, 2012). If the developmental education completers are drawn from the most motivated and academically prepared among the developmental students, then it may not be surprising that they do as well as or even better than the college-ready students. Thus developmental sequences may strengthen student academic skills, but they also act to screen out many students. Students who enter directly into college-level courses do not get the benefit of the remedial instruction, but neither are they subject to the screening. Comparisons between outcomes of developmental education completers and students who enter directly into college-level courses cannot differentiate between the academic benefits (what we want to measure) and the effects of screening (which tends to exaggerate the measured positive academic effects). In contrast, the regression discontinuity analyses do not try to separate the positive academic from the negative screening effects. By starting the comparison at the point when students are assessed, they measure the net effect of these two factors. It is true that they do not tell us the effect on academic skills of students who complete their sequences. But the methods used in the Attewell et al. (2006) or Bahr (2010) studies are not able to answer this question either. In any case, we think that the RD studies answer the most relevant policy question. For the students included in the analysis, they measure the effect of the policy that is available to the colleges offering remedial services. Colleges cannot refer a student to developmental education completion in the way that they can refer students to developmental education. Claim 3: We overgeneralize from results that are only valid for students near the developmental education cutoff scores. It is true that regression discontinuity results are most reliable for students who score near the developmental cutoff. 13 (We point this out in any study in which we have used 13 Goudas and Boylan do not point out that the studies they cite as supporting a more positive view, the Attewell et al. (2006) and Bettinger and Long (2005b/2009) studies, also focus on the marginal student. 8

9 this method.) That is, a study focusing on the COMPASS algebra cutoff of 45 can demonstrate that developmental education does not help improve the outcomes of students who score between 40 and 45, but it is not reliable for measuring the effectiveness of developmental education among students who score a 20. This criticism is a reasonable one, but its power is diluted by the fact that the definition of marginally college-ready varies widely across institutions and therefore also varies from study to study. For example, using the COMPASS algebra exam, Boatman and Long (2010) examined a statewide college-level cutoff of 50, while Scott- Clayton & Rodriguez (2012) examined a college-level cutoff that varied from 27 to 40 across the colleges in their sample. Using the COMPASS reading exam, Boatman and Long examined a statewide college-level cutoff of 68, while Xu (forthcoming) examined a college-level cutoff that varied from 72 to 81 across the colleges in her sample. Thus, the findings from the literature do encompass students at different levels of incoming ability. In addition, regression discontinuity studies have considered very poorly scoring students by focusing on lower-level cutoffs, such as the cutoff between an upper-level and lower-level developmental course. For example, some of the Boatman and Long (2010) analyses we discussed earlier focused on students at the margin between top-level and mid-level developmental math (a COMPASS algebra cutoff of 28), between midlevel and lowest-level developmental math (a COMPASS pre-algebra/arithmetic cutoff of 30), between upper-level and lower-level reading (a COMPASS reading cutoff of 53), and between upper-level and lower-level writing (a COMPASS writing cutoff of 28). In most cases these analyses yielded null effects. Only for developmental writing did Boatman and Long find some positive effects of being assigned to the lower-level course. Similarly, Dadgar (2012) examined the margin between upper-level and lower-level math (with COMPASS pre-algebra/arithmetic cutoffs varying from 29 to 40 across the colleges in her sample) and found negative or null effects; Xu (forthcoming) examined the margin between upper-level and lower-level reading (COMPASS reading cutoffs varying from 46 to 67 across colleges) and writing (COMPASS writing cutoffs varying from 28 to 59 across colleges) and found negative or null effects for being assigned to the lower-level course in both subject areas. Finally, in a propensity-score matching study (Hodara & Jaggars, 2012), the authors also focused on very poorly scoring students in math (scoring between 17 to 26 on COMPASS pre-algebra/arithmetic) and in writing (very low scores on the system s written-essay exam) whose colleges required longer versus shorter developmental sequences for students in that range of scores; they found that students assigned to the shorter sequences were more likely to eventually complete college-level math and English. The studies cited above suggest that students at many points in the developmental continuum are unlikely to be harmed by attempting courses that are slightly more difficult than their placement scores suggest they can handle. For example, a student whose score is just below the assessment margin between two and three courses below college-level math does not benefit from taking the third-level course. This interpretation aligns with work from the K-12 literature demonstrating that academically lagging students benefit 9

10 from more challenging courses taken with more-advanced peers (Burris, Wiley, Welner, & Murphy, 2008; Levin, 2007). However, that does not necessarily imply that students scoring at the very lowest levels should be placed in college-level courses. Some lowscoring students can succeed in college-level work, but many cannot. With additional supports such as co-requisite models, perhaps more of these very low-scoring students would succeed in college-level courses, but certainly some would continue to fail. Summary and Recommendations Thus the three criticisms made by Goudas and Boylan do not stand up to scrutiny. But they do echo misunderstandings about the conclusions and implications of these developmental education studies that we have often encountered when presenting our findings at conferences, colleges, and state-level meetings. We will summarize our conclusions about their three claims. Do we unfairly expect that remediation should raise outcomes of remedial students above those of college-level students? The conclusions from the regression discontinuity studies suggesting that remediation is not effective because it fails to raise the outcomes of developmental students above those of similar college-ready students may indeed sound puzzling. Since one tends to think that developmental and college-ready students are two distinct categories, it is often difficult to understand a methodology based on the idea that some students in these two apparently distinct groups are in fact very much the same (at the time of assessment). It is this pool of virtually identical students on each side of the cutoff that are examined in the regression discontinuity studies, and for them it is appropriate that we expect remediation to raise outcomes for developmental students above outcomes for the college-ready students. The large majority of the outcomes in these studies find no improvement or even negative results, although there are a small number of positive results. Focusing only on success in the first college-level course does not yield a more positive general result. Do we ignore studies with positive outcomes? The most positive findings that Goudas and Boylan cite are based on comparisons of developmental education completers and college-ready students. Focusing on the completers makes intuitive sense it is worthwhile knowing the effect of a service for those who experience it, and indeed we frequently hear college personnel state that their developmental education completers do as well as their college-ready students. But unfortunately, this comparison cannot differentiate between the positive academic effects of remediation, which surely some students experience, and the screening effect, which eliminates from the comparison many of the weaker students who fail to complete remediation. These analyses also completely dismiss the experience of many students who are assigned to developmental education but fail to make it through their assigned sequence. There are some positive results in the Attewell et al. (2006), Bettinger and Long (2005b/2009), and Boatman and Long (2010) studies of the effects of enrollment in or assignment to remediation, but these studies also mostly find no effects and reveal as many negative effects as positive ones. 10

11 Do we overgeneralize from results that are only valid at the remediation margin? The criticism that regression discontinuity studies cannot be generalized because they are valid for only for those students around the cutoff score is a reasonable one for any single study, but there are now several studies that examine cutoff scores at different levels. Results for very low cutoff scores (or margins between multiple levels of remediation) are similar to results for higher scores. What are the implications of these conclusions? Research analyzes outcomes for large samples of students and reveals average effects, but there is wide variation around those central tendencies. If on average we are disappointed with the effects of remediation, that does not mean that there are not many individual students who do benefit. This is partly reflected in the positive findings from some of the studies. Because faculty and administrators see these students and can observe the progress that they make, it is often difficult to understand research that concludes that on average there is little effect. We certainly have not argued for the wholesale elimination of prerequisite developmental education. In fact, we have publicly argued against approaches that do not provide students with very weak academic skills the supports they need (Bailey, Hughes, & Jaggars, 2012). The co-requisite model, in which many students assessed into remediation are placed in college-level courses with some additional supports, seems appropriate for students at the upper end of the developmental spectrum. It may also be appropriate for students in certain occupational certificate programs who require a limited and specific set of math, reading, and writing skills to succeed in their chosen occupation. However, very poorly prepared students aspiring to an associate degree or beyond need a different model, as we discuss in more detail below. A fair interpretation of this body of research provides legitimate motivation for all of us to look for ambitious new ways to help all community college students succeed. Although Goudas and Boylan emphasize the negative aspects of our research, we prefer to focus on the insights that it provides for improving outcomes for community college students. Innovative instructors and administrators all over the country are building on their experiences to develop exciting approaches to working with students who arrive at college with serious weaknesses that function as barriers to success. Below we describe some strategies that show promise. First, some students are referred to developmental education who in fact do not need it, for a variety of reasons. They may have performed more poorly on the exam than their actual skill levels warrant, or they may have other strong non-academic skills (such as help-seeking behaviors and study skills) that allow them to succeed in courses that seem above their current skill level. For these students, improvements in the assessment and placement process would make a huge difference. In a recent report, CCRC researchers reviewed a variety of innovative and promising improvements in this regard that are occurring across the country (Hodara, Jaggars, & Karp, 2012). 11

12 Second, outside of weaknesses in specific reading, writing, and math skills, many developmental students (as well as many college-ready students) struggle due to weaknesses in an array of other academic and non-academic skills, which go undiagnosed and unaddressed within the traditional system. For example, students may not realize when they need to seek academic help such as tutoring, nor may they know how to effectively seek the help they need. An improved assessment and placement system could help diagnose these challenges and provide students with the support they need (for some examples, see Hodara, Jaggars, & Karp, 2012). Early-warning systems may also help identify students who are struggling and intervene before they fail or drop out. Third, even among students who deeply need developmental education, lengthy sequences eat away at financial aid and may encourage students to drop out before they ever reach college-level courses. As we noted earlier, research suggests that students at any point on the developmental pipeline are not harmed by tackling slightly more difficult coursework than their test scores suggest they can handle. Along these lines, many colleges are experimenting with accelerated developmental sequences, which still provide in-depth and intensive instruction but allow students to successfully complete developmental prerequisites within fewer semesters (e.g., Hern, 2011; Edgecombe, Jaggars, Baker, & Bailey, 2013). For students along the upper range of the developmental spectrum, co-requisite models which incorporate thoughtfully designed academic supports have also demonstrated positive results (e.g., Cho, Kopko, Jenkins, & Jaggars, 2012). Several of these acceleration programs incorporate supports for instructors through collaborative instructional development activities, which help instructors remain energized and intellectually engaged in work that is both challenging and satisfying. Fourth, developmental curricula are sometimes poorly aligned with college-level assignments and expectations; accordingly, students who complete developmental courses may learn more than necessary about some skills while still lacking other skills foundational to success in college-level math, English, and other disciplinary courses such as history and biology. The Carnegie Foundation s Statway and Quantway programs represent one well-known example of an attempt to align the developmental curriculum with the expectations of the liberal arts college-level math curriculum (Cullinane & Treisman, 2010). In the realm of English, some researchers and practitioners have argued that developmental students benefit from practicing the same types of assignments they would encounter in college-level courses (e.g., Callahan & Chumney, 2009; Chabot College, 2012). In order to align developmental and college-level curricula, states such as Virginia and North Carolina have found it very helpful to convene developmental curriculum design committees that include developmental and college-level instructors in the given subject area, as well as college-level instructors in other disciplinary areas. Overall, we should reject the notion that we can neatly divide students into two distinct groups. This perspective has not been helpful either for those we have labeled developmental or for those we have labeled college ready. After all, many collegeready students also struggle, yet we do not have a focused strategy to help them. Students who arrive with weak academic skills should nevertheless be thought of as 12

13 college students, and as much as possible, the special services provided for them should help them get established in a coherent college-level program of study. These services should be the first step in such a student s college education, not a barrier that they have to overcome before they can start college. To help make developmental education more effective, we strongly agree with Goudas and Boylan that cost-cutting half-measures such as eliminating all developmental education outside of a co-requisite model will not be helpful. Rather, reformers must thoughtfully design models that not only shorten developmental sequences and use co-requisites when appropriate, but also strengthen curricular alignment, leverage non-cognitive measures as part of the placement system, integrate strong academic and non-academic supports, and tie developmental education more closely to college-level programs. Many professors, administrators, and state officials have already embraced the idea that we can make significant progress in helping developmental students successfully meet their goals. At CCRC, we want to continue to support their efforts by helping to identify where problems are, generate potential solutions, and evaluate the effectiveness of those solutions in practice. We look forward to continuing our collaborative partnerships with researchers and practitioners in this important work. 13

14 References ACT, Inc. (2006). COMPASS/ESL reference manual. Iowa City, IA: Author. Attewell, P. A., Lavin, D. E., Domina, T., & Levey, T. (2006). New evidence on college remediation. Journal of Higher Education, 77(5), Bahr, P. R. (2010). Revisiting the efficacy of postsecondary remediation: The moderating Effects of depth/breadth of deficiency. Review of Higher Education, 33(2), Bailey, T., Hughes, K., & Jaggars, S. S. (2012, May 18). Law hamstrings college remedial programs. Hartford Courant. Retrieved from Bailey, T., Jeong, D. W., & Cho, S. W. (2009). Referral, enrollment, and completion in developmental education sequences in community colleges (CCRC Working Paper No. 15). New York, NY: Columbia University, Teachers College, Community College Research Center. Bailey, T., Jeong, D. W., & Cho, S. W. (2010a). Referral, enrollment and completion in developmental education sequences in community colleges. Economics of Education Review, 29(2), Bailey, T., Jeong, D. W., & Cho, S. W. (2010b). Student progression through developmental sequences in community colleges (CCRC Brief No. 45). New York, NY: Columbia University, Teachers College, Community College Research Center. Bettinger, E., & Long, B. T. (2005a). Remediation at the community college: Student participation and outcomes. New Directions for Community Colleges, 129, Bettinger, E., & Long, B. T. (2005b). Addressing the needs of under-prepared students in higher education: Does college remediation work? (NBER Working Paper No ). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research. Bettinger, E., & Long, B. T. (2009). Addressing the needs of underprepared students in higher education: Does college remediation work? Journal of Human Resources, 44(3), Boatman, A., & Long, B. T. (2010). Does remediation work for all students? How the effects of postsecondary remedial and developmental courses vary by level of academic preparation (NCPR Working Paper). New York, NY: National Center for Postsecondary Research. Burris, C. C., Wiley, E., Welner, K. G., & Murphy, J. (2008). Accountability, rigor, and detracking: Achievement effects of embracing a challenging curriculum as a universal good for all students. Teachers College Record, 110(3),

15 Calcagno, J. C., & Long, B. T. (2008). The impact of postsecondary remediation using a regression discontinuity approach: Addressing endogenous sorting and noncompliance (NCPR Working Paper). New York, NY: National Center for Postsecondary Research. Callahan, M. K., & Chumney, D. (2009). Write like college : How remedial writing courses at a community college and a research university position at-risk students in the field of higher education. Teachers College Record, 111(7), Chabot College. (2012). English department: Philosophy and teaching practice. Retrieved from Cho, S. W., Kopko, E., Jenkins, D., & Jaggars, S. S. (2012). New evidence of success for community college remedial English students: Tracking the outcomes of students in the Accelerated Learning Program (CCRC Working Paper No. 53). New York, NY: Columbia University, Teachers College, Community College Research Center. Cullinane, J., & Treisman, P. U. (2010). Improving developmental mathematics education in community colleges: A prospectus and early status report on the Statway initiative. New York, NY: National Center for Postsecondary Research. Dadgar, M. (2012). Essays on the economics of community college students academic and labor market success (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. (Accession Order No. [ ]). Edgecombe, N., Jaggars, S. S., Baker, E. D., & Bailey, T. (2013). Acceleration through a holistic support model: An implementation and outcomes analysis of New York, NY: Columbia University, Teachers College, Community College Research Center. Fields, R., & Parsad, B. (2012). Tests and cut scores used for student placement in postsecondary education: Fall Washington, DC: National Assessment Governing Board. Goudas, A. M., & Boylan, H. R. (2012). Addressing flawed research in developmental education. Journal of Developmental Education, 36(1), Hern, K. (2011). Accelerated English at Chabot College: A synthesis of key findings. Retrieved from Synthesis1.pdf 15

16 Hodara, M., & Jaggars, S. S. (2012, April). Accelerating community college students progression through developmental education: Does it work? Presentation given at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Retrieved from Hodara, M., Jaggars, S. S., & Karp, M. M. (2012). Improving developmental education assessment and placement: Lessons from community colleges across the country (CCRC Working Paper No. 51). New York, NY: Columbia University, Teachers College, Community College Research Center. Levin, H. M. (2007). On the relationship between poverty and curriculum. North Carolina Law Review, 85(5), Martorell, P., & McFarlin, I. (2007). Help or hindrance? The effects of college remediation on academic and labor market outcomes. Retrieved from us_seminars/mcfarlin.pdf Martorell, P., & McFarlin, I. (2011). Help or hindrance? The effects of college remediation on academic and labor market outcomes. Review of Economics and Statistics, 93(2), Scott-Clayton, J. (2012). Do high-stakes placement exams predict college success? (CCRC Working Paper No. 41). New York, NY: Columbia University, Teachers College, Community College Research Center. Scott-Clayton, J., & Rodriguez, O. (2012). Development, discouragement, or diversion? New evidence on the effects of college remediation (NBER Working Paper No ). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research. Xu, D. (forthcoming). Assistance or obstacle? The impact of different levels of English remediation on underprepared students in community colleges (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY. 16

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